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Be creative with zucchini

Prairie Fare: You can make a lot of different menu items with zucchini

Zucchini doesn’t always get the respect it deserves, considering what a prolific nutritional powerhouse it is.

Mom, there’s a cucumber,” my daughter noted. “Here’s another one and another one.”

I was a little surprised at her comment because I hadn’t planted any cucumbers. I had planted the prolific cousin of the cucumber.

You definitely can see the family resemblance when they are hiding under some foliage.

“They’re zucchini,” I said. “And here’s another one.”

I was thinking these dark- and light-green summer squash would grow to the size of inflated baseball bats if we didn’t harvest them soon. In fact, zucchini can grow to three feet in length. As they grow larger, their flesh becomes tougher and they have more seeds.

Cucumbers and zucchini belong to the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae. If this plant family had a reunion, it would occupy a produce warehouse with hundreds of family members.

Zucchini season has arrived, so let the jokes begin. You might want to lock your car or you might find some green gifts on the passenger seats.

Ladies, don’t carry a big purse or you might discover it is heavier when you get home.

Although developed in Italy, zucchini also has a French name: “courgette.” That’s sounds more exotic and appetizing than yet another name: “marrow.”

Accept zucchini gratefully. You can make a lot of different menu items with it.

Zucchini is very low in calories because it is made up of 95 per cent water. One cup of chopped zucchini has just 21 calories, 1.5 grams (g) protein, 0.4 g fat, 4 g carbohydrate and 1.2 g fibre.

Try these different ways to use zucchini:

  • Add zucchini to your grilling menu. Rinse, then slice zucchini into 1/2-inch-thick pieces. Place in a bowl, then add a small amount of canola or olive oil. Mix. Sprinkle with your favourite seasonings, such as garlic powder, pepper or Italian seasoning.

Grill zucchini over medium-low heat for three to four minutes per side. Use a perforated grilling pan (so the zucchini doesn’t fall through the grate). You also can slice zucchini lengthwise, brush with oil and cook over the grates.

  • Fill the zucchini. Slice larger zucchini in half to form long “boats,” then remove the seeds. Cook in boiling water until tender. Drain well, then fill the cavity with your favourite leftover casserole or taco meat and bake until heated through. Top with cheese and return to the oven until the cheese melts.
  • Make zucchini noodles. Rinse but do not peel two small zucchini. Make zucchini noodles by slicing into thin strips with a knife or vegetable peeler. Discard seeds. You also can purchase special equipment such as a “vegetable spiralizer” to make zucchini noodles.

Heat oil in a skillet. Use 1 tablespoon oil for 2 cups of zucchini noodles. Sauté for a couple of minutes. Add 1/4 cup of water and cook for about five minutes.

  • Use it in baking. Use grated zucchini in baked goods, such as bread and muffins.
  • Extend foods. Add grated zucchini to meat loaf or meatballs to keep the recipe moist. Use about 1 cup of grated zucchini per pound of ground meat.
  • Preserve the zucchini. Freeze zucchini by slicing or grating. Blanch in boiling water for one minute if grated or three minutes if sliced. Allow to dry, then package in freezer containers. Label with contents and date.

Note that zucchini may become watery during the freezing process. After thawing, drain the excess liquid.

  • Eat the squash blossoms. Zucchini blossoms can be added to soup, salads, quesadillas and many other foods. You can dip the zucchini blossoms in tempura batter and deep-fry them; however, this adds a significant amount of calories.

However, if you eat the blossoms, they won’t form more zucchini!

Here’s an old favourite that makes a tasty breakfast with scrambled eggs, orange juice and a cup of coffee.

Zucchini Bread

  • 3-1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 1 c. vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/3 c. water
  • 2 c. grated zucchini
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 c. chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs, water, zucchini and lemon juice. Mix wet ingredients into dry and add nuts. Bake in two standard loaf pans, sprayed with non-stick spray, for one hour.

Makes two loaves of bread (24 servings). With nuts, each serving has 270 calories, 12 g fat, 3 g protein, 38 g carbohydrate, 1 g fibre and 260 milligrams sodium.

Zucchini bread is a tasty, easy-to-make recipe.  photo: NDSU

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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